Is it possible for a manager to be named the MVP of the American League Championship Series?
There is no question Terry Francona has pushed the right button pretty much the entire month of October, and it was never more evident than last night when the Indians took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series with their bullpen pitching 8-1/3 innings.
As a result, the Tribe can clinch their sixth American League this evening in Toronto with a victory.
The Cleveland skipper is also a visionary in how to use your bullpen and your best relief pitcher the way he has utilized Andrew Miller throughout the playoffs.
We’ve seen the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts and the Cubs’ Joe Maddon try similar things with their closers in the past two weeks, though without the same success as the Francona/Miller combination.
Of course, Francona is able to do this because of the deep Tribe bullpen. It’s easy to use Miller in this way when you can bring in someone the quality of Cody Allen to pitch the ninth inning.
Imagine if Tito needed Miller to get the final three outs.
It would be a whole different situation.
Because Francona has managed two World Series winners, and been part of so many post-seasons over the years, he has a wealth of situations he can call on in handling things.
When the Yankees had their dominant run from 1996-2001, Joe Torre realized the importance of every playoff game. At the time, that made him different than most managers who continued to pilot each contest like it was one out of 162.
Torre would use Mariano Rivera to get one or two extra outs per night, and would ask the same of set up men like Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton.
Tito is doing the same thing. Maybe he’s doing it because Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar can’t start games. But Josh Tomlin is giving him five good frames to date, and that’s all the skipper needs.
He knows his best pitchers are in the bullpen and Miller has morphed into the post-season’s best bullpen weapon since Rivera.
Watching him gives Indians’ fans the same feeling Yankee fans must have had knowing when Rivera, the best closer ever, entered the game, it was basically over.
And even though the relievers had to throw 8-1/3 innings last night, Francona still has Mike Clevinger and Cody Anderson tonight if he needs length, and none of the pitchers used last night threw enough pitches to make them not be able to used in Game 4.
That said, we still wouldn’t use Corey Kluber on short rest today with a 3-0 lead, but we understand Tito wants him available in case he’s needed in a seventh game, should the series get that far.
We would use Ryan Merritt today, and then have a fully rested Kluber to go in Game 5.
Should Kluber lose today, the Blue Jays have to be salivating with a chance to go against a rookie tomorrow, and coming back to Cleveland down 3-2.
However, every button Francona has pushed this month has turned up a winner. If we were going to Las Vegas this weekend, we would want to rub his head before we left.
No wonder the played believe in Terry Francona, he has put them in the right position in these two series and has them one game away from the American League Pennant.